Every year, I am excited to receive the new crop of poems for the annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards. Then, I’m challenged with the task of picking one poem to win the entire competition.
It’s no easy task to rank one poem above another, especially when considering the diversity of poetry. There’s always a range of poetic forms, including free verse, covering a variety of subjects and expressing a myriad set of moods.
As usual, there were many strong contenders for the top spot after going through around 1,000 entries. Ultimately, it came down to which excellent poem spoke to me more than any of the other great entries.
This year, I selected “Lullaby” by Nancy Shea for the Grand Prize. Shea will receive $1,000, a free video download of Build an Audience for Your Poetry from the Writer’s Digest Shop, and a 20-minute consultation with yours truly.
“Lullaby” by Nancy Shea
The oak leaves High this August afternoon
Drop a net of light and shadow
from the treetops Onto the sidewalk below
Cool the cheek of the infant sleeping His mother swaying under the branches
And I remember you as you were
fingers, lashes, tiny tendrils curling before the kaleidoscope of smaller roundnesses
Irises blooming hallow pools of darkness
sharp wind in the branches the violent letting go
two leaves pleading from one bough falling
side by side cradle-like descending
two cupped hands snapped at the wrist
falling in summer
you whispering Mother, is that all there is?
I loved all the finalist poems, but “Lullaby” swept me away for several reasons. The opening lines drew me in with the visual of an oak tree in August dropping “a net of light and shadow from the treetops onto the sidewalk below” that shades a swaying mother and infant child sleeping.
Then, this scene sparks the narrator to remember her child and an intriguing mystery that involves “pools of darkness,” “violent letting go,” and “two cupped hands snapped at the wrist.” All of it riffing off the popular “Rock-a-Bye Baby” lullaby.
The WD Poetry Awards call for unpublished, original poems of 32 lines or fewer. The top 25 winners receive a download of Build an Audience for Your Poetry and recognition on WritersDigest.com.